—by Bill Haglund
We hear much about Iowa’s "Healthiest State Initiative."
And, we’ve done much to achieve that lofty goal. We encourage groups to come together and walk. We have hundreds and hundreds of 5k run/walk events throughout this great state. YMCAs abound and fitness gyms fill every corner of Iowa.
Under former Gov. Chet Culver, we went further. During Culver’s administration legislation was enacted that raised the tax on a pack of cigarettes by a whole dollar, making them so expensive, it was hoped, that Iowans would give up the habit just because the expense was prohibitive. Legislation was enacted to ban smoking in public gathering places, including bars and restaurants.
Those were great steps. Now, when you go to bars and/or restaurants the air is fit for breathing. The only negative is right outside the front door of many establishments where patrons have gathered to inhale the poison and, while so doing, leave smoke hanging in the air for all of us to walk through.
And, walking through someone else’s smoke is more than a nuisance. It’s unhealthy, too.
We’re told that breathing second hand smoke is as dangerous, if not more so, than inhaling tobacco in the first place.
Yet, those of us who do not smoke are still subjected to second hand smoke if we happen to encounter it outside. At least, thankfully, it’s somewhat diluted.
Not so, however, in Iowa’s casinos.
You can talk all you want about improving the health of Iowans through exercise and by not smoking. But you can’t say enough, or do enough, when dollars and cents are involved.
Did I say dollars and cents? How about millions of dollars and a few cents?
What it really comes down to is dollars and "scents."
When you go to a casino, someone’s raking in millions of dollars. The rest of us are treated to unpleasant, unhealthy "scents."
Why is it that we’ve banned smoking in most public places, yet casinos are off limits? Why is it that those of us who enjoy visiting a casino on occasion have to be subjected to someone else’s smoke? Why is it that those of us who don’t smoke have clothes that smell like a stale cigarette butt the day after we’ve visited a casino?
Well, they tell us, non-smoking areas are provided for patrons who don’t smoke. That’s true, but you have to walk through large smoke-filled areas to reach those sanctuaries.
Even those smoke-free areas aren’t always sanctuaries from the poison others put into the air.
The last three times my wife and I have visited a casino and found refuge in a non-smoking area, our nostrils have been filled with the pungent aroma of smoke. Each time, a smoker had sat at a machine right behind us and lit up.
Obviously, many smokers can’t read. There’s a large "No Smoking Area" sign on the wall. Each machine has a sticker that says "No Smoking Area," and there are no ash trays anywhere to be found.
Yet, these same people who have lit up in the non-smoking area – most of them at least – become offended when you tell them, politely, "Sir/Ma’am, this is a non-smoking area."
One gentleman(?) even stood up defensively when I informed him he was in a non-smoking area and said, "You’re not going to tell me I can’t smoke here."
I said something like, "there are only a few places here where we don’t have to put up with people like you and this is one of them, so, yes, I will tell you that you can’t smoke here."
Fortunately, my wife diffused the situation quickly while I went off in search of a security guard to handle the situation.
I should have a right to breathe clean air. I should not be subjected to someone else’s filthy habits. If you blow smoke in my face, you are attacking me with a dangerous weapon.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is a stalwart anti-smoking advocate. I know there are plenty of folks in the Iowa Legislature who think of smoking the same way as I.
It’s time, once again, for the Iowa legislature and Gov. Branstad to push against smoking in Iowa casinos. It’s not likely to happen. In today’s political world it just takes too much time to attack an opponent’s political party rather than to take a big step toward making Iowa the "healthiest state."
C’mon, folks. It’s way past time.
(Bill Haglund is a staff writer for the Boone News Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)